Archive for the ‘Arduous March’ Category

Chongryon headquarters sold for debts – still under DPRK control

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Pictured above (Google Earth): The Chongryon headquarters building in Tokyo ( 35.697001°, 139.743435°).

UPDATE 10 (2105-2-11): According to the Japan Times, the Chongryun building is still under control of the DPRK, even after it was sold:

The building and the land it stands on are mortgaged to a Chongryon-affiliated company on whose board sit a former member of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea and a former president of Korea News Service, a North Korean news agency, people familiar with the situation said.

Records show ownership of the building and land was transferred to a real estate firm in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, on Jan. 28 from a real estate company in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, which place the successful auction bid.

The fact that the property is mortgaged to a Chongryon-affiliated company suggests the organization played a role in shifting ownership to the Sakata real estate firm, people close to Japanese public security authorities said.

The Sakata real estate firm is expected to lease the property to Chongryon so that it can continue using the building, informed sources said.

UPDATE 9 (2015-2-6): According to the South China Morning Post, there is a new fog of suspicion that has set over the former Chongryun headquarters:

A former Chinese diplomat once named as a spy in Japan’s parliament has business links to an obscure firm that has purchased the de facto North Korean embassy in Tokyo.

Wang Xinghu, who was previously stationed at the Chinese embassy but claims to have become a businessman, has set up a consultancy called HKS Japan with Takeharu Inamura, a Japanese national, according to records seen by the South China Morning Post.

It emerged last week that Inamura’s other company, a small warehousing firm that is called Green Forest, paid ¥4.4 billion (HK$290.7 million) to buy Pyongyang’s biggest asset in Japan, the headquarters of the quasi-official Chongryon organisation.

But Green Forest has limited resources and experience in the property sector, and questions are being asked about where the firm acquired the cash.

Chongryon’s imposing headquarters was initially put up for auction in 2012 at the request of the Japanese government’s debt collection agency after the association for North Korean residents of Japan defaulted on debts of more than ¥62 billion.

After two initial attempts to purchase the building fell through – one by a religious group with links to an organised crime gang with North Korean members and the second a shell company based in Mongolia but with no assets and no traceable history – the property was sold last year to Marunaka Holdings, a Japanese construction company.

After paying ¥2.21 billion for the building and demanding that Chongryon vacate it so the plot could be redeveloped, Marunaka suddenly changed its mind and sold the property – for ¥4.4 billion and a swift profit – to Inamura’s company, which is based in rural Yamagata Prefecture, has no history or licence to operate in the real-estate sector. Its annual turnover is a paltry ¥19 million.

In corporate documents, Chongryon is now listed as the mortgagee and will be allowed to remain in the property. The sale took place on January 28.

Phone calls to the offices of both HKS Japan and Green Forest were not answered. Local media have reported that Inamura lives in a small rented apartment in Tokyo’s Nakano district, but the curtains have remained drawn and the lights off since the deal was revealed.

Wang – who was named by Japanese politician Katsuei Hirasawa in the Diet in July 2012 as a Chinese spy – is apparently out of the country. Hirasawa is a former official of the Japanese police whose responsibilities primarily focused on foreign intelligence issues. At the time Hirasawa made his allegations, the Sankei Shimbun reported Wang was a member of to China’s Ministry of State Security.

Chongryon is also refusing to talk to the Post.

A Japanese human rights activist who is demanding that more international pressure be applied to the North Korean regime says he believed China was involved in the transaction.

“Wang cannot fund the Chongryon headquarters deal without the consent and financing of the Chinese government,” claimed Ken Kato, director of Human Rights in Asia and a member of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea.

“It is a mystery why China has decided to spend billions of yen to save Chongryon’s face,” he added. “I am sure that China understands that once their involvement in the deal is revealed, it will anger the Japanese public.

“The Chongryon HQ was sold not because of ‘discrimination’ or ‘persecution,’ as they are insisting,” he added. “It was sold because they refused to pay back a debt that Japanese taxpayers were forced to shoulder.”

Kato is indignant North Korea is refusing to honour its debts in Japan despite spending vast sums on nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

There have been several years of friction between China and erstwhile ally North Korea, and if Beijing funded the purchase of the building, it could be a sign that China wants to get the relationship back on track.

Beijing was angered when Pyongyang ignored its pressure to not go ahead with a third underground nuclear test in 2013 and, subsequently, a series of missile test-launches.

Since Beijing got tough on the regime of Kim Jong-un – including halting all supplies of fuel oil – North Korea turned its attentions to Russia and has been busily courting its new ally. Moscow and Pyongyang have agreed to carry out a series of military drills this year, major Russian investment in North Korean infrastructure is under way, and Kim has reportedly accepted an invitation to attend a ceremony marking the end of the second world war in Moscow in May.

UPDATE 8 (2014-11-7): Chongryun has lost its appeal for the forced sale of its Tokyo headquarters. According to a media report:

Chongryun, the association that represents North Korean residents of Japan, is running out of ways to keep its most prized asset after the Supreme Court ruled that the sale of its headquarters to a Japanese real estate developer would go ahead.

The dismissal of the appeal by Chongryun represents “a serious loss of face” for the organisation and the North Korean leadership, according to analysts, and could even serve to weaken links between the regime’s citizens in Japan and their homeland.

“They have not made any official comments yet but it is clear that this will be a major disappointment because it is such a serious loss of face,” Ken Kato, a Tokyo-based human rights activist, said.

“I also hope that North Koreans living in Japan … are able to stand up against the regime. Many of them have relatives in North Korea and they are effectively held as hostages to ensure that the people here send back ‘donations’ that are then spent on developing missiles and nuclear weapons,” Kato said. “I hope they wake up to the reality.”

Representatives of Chongryun could not be contacted but sources said last month that retaining a building that served as an embassy in Japan had been made a priority by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Chongryun leader Ho Jong-man visited North Korea for the first time in eight years in October and, although he was not able to meet him in person, was handed a personal letter from Kim.

One of the instructions in the letter was to secure the continued use of the Chongryun headquarters in Tokyo.

The Supreme Court’s decision makes that target effectively impossible and will not go down well in Pyongyang.

The legal decision is in favour of Marunaka Holdings, which had lodged a bid of 2.21 billion yen (HK$149.5 million) for the building and the prime 2,387 square metre plot that it occupies in Chiyoda Ward.

Moves to sell the building began in March after the government-backed Resolution and Collection called in loans amounting to more than 62 billion yen that it had extended to the residents’ association.

Chongryun initially attempted to sell the property to a Kagoshima-based religious order that would permit the organisation to remain in residence. It was later alleged that the temple had links to underworld groups. The deal fell through when the temple was unable to raise the funds.

The next bidder was a mysterious Mongolian company known as Avar that was using an address in Ulan Bator but had no presence at the building and had never previously purchased a property in Japan.

Analysts believe it was a front for the North Korean government. That transaction was blocked by authorities in Japan for a lack of transparency, triggering a third round of bidding.

UPDATE 7 (2014-4-11): DPRK claims to send funds to Chongryun. According to KCNA:

Kim Jong Un Sends Educational Aid Fund and Stipends to Children of Koreans in Japan

Pyongyang, April 11 (KCNA) — Supreme leader Kim Jong Un sent educational aid fund and stipends amounting to 207.8 million yen to the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan for the democratic national education of children of Koreans in Japan on the occasion of the 102nd birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung.

The educational aid fund and stipends sent by Generalissimos Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and Marshal Kim Jong Un in 160 installments total 47,331,150,390 yen.

Since the Mangyongbong-92 is no longer traveling the East Sea/Sea of Japan, I wonder how the funds will be transferred.

The Chongryun have seen bad financial news lately:

1. Chongryun headquarters in central Tokyo was recently auctioned off for debts incurred helping the DPRK get through the Arduous March.

2. Chongryon schools are not eligible for some Japanese education subsidies.

UPDATE 6 (2014-3-29): KCNA reports (surprise!) that the DPRK is not happy about the sale of the Chongryun headquarters building. Below are two related articles:

Japanese Authorities Warned of Their Moves to Seize Korean Hall of Chongryon

Pyongyang, March 29 (KCNA) — The Committee for Aiding Overseas Compatriots of Korea made public a statement on Friday denouncing the Japanese authorities for their extremely dangerous moves to stifle the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) and Koreans in Japan.

On March 24 the Japanese authorities took such fascist action as instigating the Tokyo District Court to make an illegal decision to allow the sale of the land and building of the Korean Hall of Chongryon.

This is a wanton violation of the dignity and existence right of Chongryon and Koreans in Japan and a grave infringement upon the sovereignty of the DPRK, the statement said, adding:

The Japanese authorities are feigning ignorance of the fact, noting that the decision was made by a “judiciary organ” in a bid to evade the blame for seizing the Korean hall. But this is no more than an excuse to cover up their sinister criminal purpose.

It is their sinister political scenario to deprive the Central Standing Committee of Chongryon of the base of its activities and thus weaken the authority of Chongryon, a model of Juche-based overseas Koreans’ movement, and dampen the elated patriotic enthusiasm of Koreans so as to stamp out the movement of Koreans in Japan.

The statement went on:

Now that the Japanese authorities deliberately touched off distrust at a time when confidence-building is required for improving the DPRK-Japan relations more urgently than ever before the DPRK is compelled to take corresponding measures.

If the Japanese authorities persist in their moves to seize the Korean Hall despite the warning of the DPRK, they will be wholly responsible for the consequences to be entailed by them.

Illegal Decision of Tokyo District Court Slammed

Pyongyang, March 29 (KCNA) — The Tokyo District Court made a decision to allow the sale of the land and building of the Korean Hall of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) under the backstage wire-pulling of the Japanese authorities. The spokesman for the Democratic Lawyers Association of Korea Saturday released a statement disclosing the illegality of the decision.

The statement says:

The illegality of the decision finds its vivid manifestation in that the court selected a disqualified company as a successful bidder by fraud and swindle.

The Tokyo District Court had delayed the announcement of the results of auction of the Korean Hall of Chongryon, which was made in October of 2013. On March 20, it reopened the tenders for it for no reason all of a sudden and made the decision to allow the sale to the Marunaka Holdings Co. Ltd., Japan.

As far as the above-said company is concerned, it had already been disqualified as it underbid others in October last year and took back bid bond from the court.

In particular, it is a precedent of the Japanese courts that in case the relevant court returned the bid bond to a disqualified company it would not make a decision to allow the sale to it.

Therefore, it was a crude violation of the law in every aspect that the court chose the above-said company as a successful bidder.

The illegality of the decision of the Tokyo District Court is also evidenced by the double-dealing attitude of the Resolution and Collection Corporation, a creditor.

When the issue of the Korean Hall presented itself, the Corporation made a hostile and discriminating demand that Chongryon should repay a total amount plus interest though it has settled issues with other debtors in a friendly manner.

But the Corporation kept mum about the decision of the Tokyo District Court to sell the Korean Hall at a price less than half the actual one.

The Japanese authorities has long regarded the Korean Hall of Chongryon on which the flag of the DPRK is fluttering as a thorn in their flesh and run the whole gamut of plots to seize it.

That was why the Tokyo District Court staged an unprecedented farce in disregard of the Japanese law, precedents of the courts and practices of the basic procedures for tenders

The Democratic Lawyers Association of Korea categorically rejects the decision of the Tokyo District Court and declares internally and externally that the illegal decision is invalid, the statement says.

The Japanese authorities had better halt their moves to seize the Korean Hall, though belatedly, if it thinks of its face as a “law-governed state” even a bit and has real intention to improve the relations with the DPRK, the statement concludes.

UPDATE 5 (2014-3-24): A Japanese estate agency has been approved to buy the property. According to  NTD:

A court ruled Monday that a Japanese estate agency could buy the Tokyo property that serves as North Korea’s de facto embassy, after an earlier bid fell through.

The decision from the Tokyo District Court drew an immediate and angry reaction from Chongryon, the organisation that represents North Korean interests in Japan in the absence of diplomatic ties.

“This is an unfair decision. We cannot accept it,” said an organisation spokesman, adding that an appeal would be lodged.

The site — a 2,390-square-metre (25,725-square-feet) plot and 10-storey building occupied by Chongryon — was put up for auction after it was seized by authorities over unpaid debts.

Monday’s ruling gave real estate firm Marunaka Holdings the right to buy the building for 2.21 billion yen ($22 million), after a winning bid from an obscure Mongolia-registered company fell apart.

The Avar Limited Liability Company had won an auction in October with a bid of 5.01 billion yen, beating Marunaka’s offer. But the court disqualified the offer several months later reportedly due to flawed documentation amid questions over whether the firm had links to Pyongyang.

Japanese law bars an organisation forced to sell assets from taking part in an auction of them.

The Japanese firm is planning to remove the North Korean-linked organisation from the property, reports said, but it was unclear if it still planned to go through with the purchase following the judgement.

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Koreans live in Japan, mostly a legacy of those who emigrated or were forced to move to Japan during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

About 10 percent are believed to be affiliated with Chongryon, which charges that the community is persecuted by authorities and harassed by right-wing activists.

UPDATE 4 (2014-1-23): NK News reports that the mysterious Mongolian firm has been blocked from purchasing the former headquarters building.

A Japanese court has blocked a Mongolia-based company’s bid to buy the Tokyo headquarters of the main pro-North Korea organization in Japan, Chongryon.

After months of screening, the Tokyo District Court announced on Thursday that due to purchase irregularities it would not allow the Ulan Bator-based Avar Limited Liability Company to purchase the property, which still serves as the headquarters for Japan’s main pro-North Korea organization.

The Mongolian firm, which had previously won an October 2013 auction for the building with a 5.01 billion yen (U.S. $48 million bid) bid, was rejected by the court because a certificate it submitted to support the purchase appeared to be a color photocopy and did not bear the official seal of the Mongolian government.

“It is a company on paper,” Hideshi Takesada, an expert on regional security at Takushoku University in Tokyo, told NK News on Thursday.

“With the bid tendering highly unlikely to be successful, Chongryon will be able to stay at the headquarters building and use the land. In a sense, the Japanese government is doing a favor for North Korea,” Takesada said. Takesada is a former executive director of the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo, the Japanese Ministry of Defense’s think-tank.

UPDATE 3 (2013-10-22): Apparently funding fell through for the Buddhist group, and the building was put up for sale again. A Mongolian firm stepped forward to buy the building, but this was halted over fears that the new firm was a front for North Korean interests. According to the South China Morning Post:

The Tokyo District Court acted yesterday in response to a petition for an injunction on the sale filed by Ken Kato, director of Human Rights in Asia. Kato’s request pointed out that would-be buyer Avar was registered at an address in Ulan Bator, but the company apparently had no presence there.

When a Japanese television team arrived at the Mongolian address to ask about the purchase of the 10-storey building that is now occupied by Chongryon, the organisation that represents North Korean residents of Japan, and the prime plot it occupies in Chiyoda Ward, they were met by a bemused woman.

She told the TV crew her family had been living in the apartment for seven years and had never heard of Avar.

“I told the court that this was a typical case of money laundering and that the court cannot permit the transaction to go ahead,” Kato told the South China Morning Post. “The address is fake and the registration of the company must therefore be illegal.”

No deadline has been set for the court to make a decision on whether the transaction will go ahead, but Kato is confident any investigation will lead back to the North Korean leader. “Kim Jong-un wants to save face and not lose this property and I’m sure the decision to pay more than the market value is a case of a dictator’s whim,” he said.

The minimum price for bidders for the property was set at 2.13 billion yen (HK$168 million), while a previous deal to buy the building in May for 4.52 billion yen fell through when the buyer, the chief priest of Saifukuji Temple, was unable to raise the funds by the deadline. Kato said it was therefore curious that the latest sale price was 5.01 billion yen.

“The buyer could have got it for a lot less than that and I believe they offered so much in the hope no answers would be asked and the real purchaser could remain anonymous,” he said.

That was always likely to be a vain hope, given the interest in the property, which was put on the market in March by the government-backed Resolution and Collection Corp. in an effort to recoup loans of 62 billion yen that it extended to the residents’ association after the collapse of a number of financial institutions for North Korean residents of Japan.

The involvement of a Mongolian firm also raised eyebrows in Japan, as no Mongolian firm has ever purchased a building in Tokyo and there are very few Mongolian companies with enough cash to carry out such a deal.

As well as the suggestion that Avar is a front company for the North Korean regime, there has also been speculation that the Mongolian government might be involved as part of the burgeoning relationship between the two regimes.

UPDATE 2 (2013-3-27): A Buddhist order on good terms with the Chongryun won the property auction and will allow the Chongryun to remain on the premises.  According to the Japan Times:

The Kagoshima temple offered ¥4.5 billion, the highest among four bidders, to acquire the land and the Chongryon building.

“We will keep the building as it is and make it a base of harmony among ethnic groups in Asia, including North Korea,” said Saifuku Temple leader Ekan Ikeguchi.

“The function of our headquarters will be maintained for the time being, at least,” a Chongryon official said. “We feel relieved.”

The government-backed Resolution and Collection Corp. put the premises out to tender to recoup loans of about ¥62.7 billion it made to Chongryon.

UPDATE 1 (2013-3-13): The Wall Street Journal’s Japan Real Time reports that the auction has finally begun on the Chongryun’s headquarters building in central Tokyo. According to the article:

Bidding has begun for the repossessed central headquarters of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, North Korea’s de-facto embassy in the country. It’s an attempt by the Japanese government to get back some of the ¥62.7 billion owed by the pro-Pyongyang group, also known as Chongryon, and comes as the reclusive regime faces a new round of sanctions and international condemnation following its third nuclear test.

Built in 1986, the 10-story office building has two basement floors and is situated on a 2,390 square-meter piece of land in a prime location in central Tokyo. The Tokyo District Court said in its assessment of the building that some portions of it showed signs of age-related deterioration as well as damage incurred during the massive 2011 earthquake that shook northeastern Japan.

Analysts say that as the auctioneer’s hammer falls, so falls the fortunes of the once-influential group.

“Losing its central headquarters is symbolic of Chongryon’s decline,” said Hajime Izumi, Professor of International Relations at Shizuoka University. “While the organization will survive, I expect it to face increasing difficulty maintaining itself,” he said.

Founded in 1955 as an organization representing the pro-North Korean members of Japan’s ethnic Korean minority, Chongryon has been responsible for pumping out North Korean propaganda and has been operating banks, a newspaper and numerous schools for Korean residents in Japan.

The group has also been a reliable source of hard cash for Pyongyang, with members sending back a large portion of revenue accumulated through numerous “pachinko” gambling parlors and real-estate businesses operated across the nation.

But Yoshifu Arita, an upper house lawmaker in Japan’s parliament, said the organization faced severe head-winds in 2002 when the late Kim Jong Il admitted during a meeting with then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that North Korean agents had kidnapped Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

“This led to a massive public backlash toward North Korea as well the organization,” he said. “It led to many disillusioned members leaving Chongryon as pressure on them mounted.”

Chongryon’s debt stems from a network of credit unions for pro-North Korean residents of Japan that collapsed and had to be bailed out by the government-backed Resolution and Collection Corporation in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The debt has been transferred to Chongryon, which has been sued by the RCC for repayment.

A 72-year-old South Korean businessman living in Kobe, who used to be affiliated with Chongryon, added that the younger generation of Koreans in Japan also felt less of a link and patriotism toward Pyongyang. And with Japan’s long economic malaise following the burst of its debt bubble in the early 1990s, “pro-Pyongyang supporters don’t have the cash or the will to lend a hand to the organization, even when its headquarters are about to be sold off,” added the businessman, who asked not to be identified.

Bids for the building, which began Tuesday, will be accepted through March 19. The winner of the auction, which Chongryon cannot participate in, is expected to be decided on March 29.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-7-26): The Atlantic has a great piece on recent developments with the General Association of Koreans in Japan (Chongryon or Chosen Soren):

In late June, a Japanese court ordered Chongryon, a business, education, and banking organization formally representing pro-North Korean members of Japan’s ethnic Korean minority, to auction off its ten-story office building in downtown Tokyo, effectively ending its mission of bringing money into North Korea and pushing propaganda out. The group’s problems are essentially financial: Chongryon owes the Japanese government nearly $750 million for a late-90s emergency bailout that rescued the group’s network of credit unions, which were rapidly de-capitalized because of remittances to North Korea during the country’s devastating mid-90s famine, an economic and humanitarian catastrophe that killed up to 2 million people.

As with just about anything regarding North Korea, even the surface-level truth belies deeper and darker realities. If it weren’t for the chronic economic crisis and resulting famine that gripped North Korea in the 1990s, as well as a rising anti-North Korean strain in Japanese politics, then the criminal enterprises, communal bonds, and official connections that made Chongryon such a formidable political and cultural organization may well have remained intact. It took economic collapse, regional crisis, and domestic political upheaval to bring Chongryon to its knees.

North Korea has no official embassy in Japan, so the Pyongyang-linked Chongryon acts as an unofficial representative of a government that has kidnapped Japanese citizens and fired long-range missiles in the island nation’s direction. It runs banks, a newspaper, dozens of schools, and a university named after Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s “eternal leader” and the current despot’s grandfather. In the 1980s, Chongryon’s business and criminal enterprises, which included off-book pachinko parlors, pubs, prostitution rings, and real estate, reportedly produced over a billion dollars a year in revenue — much of which, according to Michael J. Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was sent back to Pyongyang. As late as 1990, its banking system was capitalized to the tune of $25 billion.

Because North Korea has few exports and is under severe international sanctions, unofficial currency-gathering enterprises like this one can be crucial. And the group also serves as a propaganda outlet, pushing out the DPRK party line to ethnic Koreans. It would be unimaginable for North Korea to own a K-Street high-rise, and South Korea officially bans any expression of support for its northern neighbor. But Japan has allowed its enemy’s outpost to remain, and even thrive.

The full story is well worth reading here.

Here are previous posts on the Chongryon including a post from 2010 when the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that the headquarters could be seized.


Lankov on bribery

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Below I have posted some excerpts from a recent Andrei Lankov article on bribery in the DPRK along with the economic bullet points:

Bribery has little to do with ethics or honesty but relative costs and benefits:

The incorruptibility of the old bureaucracy has a rather simple and rational explanation: Most of the time, it did not pay to be a corrupt official under Kim Il-sung. Money was of surprisingly little use in the 1960s and 1970s, when pretty much everything was rationed and distributed by the state according to predetermined quotas and norms.

In those days officials lived significantly better than the average North Korean, no doubt. But they were affluent not because they had significantly more money (the wage differential between a top official and a humble worker was remarkably low), but rather because they had access to higher-quality goods and services that were not available to the common people. One of my North Korean interlocutors said: “Back in the 1980s, I did not care about money. Nobody did, since money did not buy much in those days.” In those days, in the 1970s or 1980s, one had to be an official to drink beer every week, to smoke cigarettes with filters, or feast on pork a few times a month. But officials did not buy these goods at market; rather they received them from the state as part of their special (very special) rations.

In this situation, it did not make sense for an official to accept bribes as a reward for overlooking some misbehavior or violations of some rules. Money would not be particularly useful and at the same time there was a significant risk of being caught. If caught, an unlucky official would at best lose his or her job and at worst even freedom, and no amount of money would compensate for this disaster.

In highly regulated economies, bribery and growth are positively correlated:

We are conditioned to see official corruption as an evil, but in present-day North Korea, corruption might be a life-saver. The average North Korean gets most of his or her income (about 75%, if recent estimates are to be believed) from private economic activities – these include private agriculture, trade and small-scale household production, and myriad other things. Nonetheless, nearly all of these activities remain technically illegal. Unlike China, North Korea has never undertaken serious economic reform, so private economic activities are still considered crimes, even though they have long become, in practice, a universal norm (and without such activities many would be unable to stay alive).

The only reason these activities are able to exist is corruption. Without widespread corruption, many more North Koreans would probably have perished in the great famine because there would have been no way to have private agriculture, and it would have been nearly impossible for private traders to move food across the country, delivering it to areas where the food situation was especially dire. After all, trade in grain and long-distance travel for commercial purposes are both technically crimes. No markets would be possible had the local bureaucracy been serious about enforcing a multitude of bans and restrictions on commercial activities.

Although corruption will lead to low levels of growth, it will impede overall development in the long-term:

Even when the Kim family regime meets its eventual demise, when a new North Korea emerges, the culture of corruption may remain as part of its heritage. And perhaps eventually it will become a serious burden to a resurgent North Korean economy.

Regarding this last point, see this post.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s culture of bribery
Asia Times
Andrei Lankov


Lankov on the evolution of personal income in the DPRK

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Andrei Lankov writes on the history and evolution of personal income in the DPRK. According to his article in the Asia Times:

When one talks about virtually any country, wages and salaries are one of the most important things to be considered. How much does a clerk or a doctor, a builder or a shopkeeper earn there? What is their survival income, and above what level can a person be considered rich?

Such questions are pertinent to impoverished North Korea, but this is the Hermit Kingdom, so answering such seemingly simple questions creates a whole host of problems.

We could look first at official salaries but this is not easy since statistics on this are never published in North Korea. Nonetheless, it is known from reports of foreign visitors and sojourners that in the 1970s and 1980s, most North Koreans earned between 50 to 100 won per month, with 70 won being the average salary.

Read more below…


North Korea redefines ‘minimum’ wage

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Andrei Lankov writes in the Asia Times:

When one talks about virtually any country, wages and salaries are one of the most important things to be considered. How much does a clerk or a doctor, a builder or a shopkeeper earn there? What is their survival income, and above what level can a person be considered rich?

Such questions are pertinent to impoverished North Korea, but this is the Hermit Kingdom, so answering such seemingly simple questions creates a whole host of problems.

Read the full story below:



Kim Jong-un’s first public speech

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Pictured above: Kim Jong-un delivers his first public address in Kim Il-sung Square

You can watch the video of the entire speech on YouTube here. And just for fun, here is a link to Kim Jong-il’s only public address which I posted to Youtube last year. I also posted this video of Kim Jong-il speaking at a meeting with South Korean president Roh Roh Moo-hyun.

UPDATE 2 (2012-4-25): The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) has posted some analysis of the speech:

Kim Jong-un’s first public speech: New direction for economic policy stressed
Institute For Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Kim Jong Un, the first chairman of the National Defence Commission of the DPRK, made his first speech during a military parade to commemorate the centenary of the birth of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, released an article on April 19 with the details of the speech.

In the article, Kim Jong Un emphasized, “songun is our autonomy, dignity and life” and pledged to uphold the songun politics to continue the teachings of his father, Kim Jong Il.

Kim Jong Un also underlined that the most important national agenda is becoming a powerful nation through improving the national economy, and resolving the food shortage problem. In addition, he stressed that strong knowledge-based economy must be built by way of new industrial revolution.

The economic policy Kim Jong Un set forth involved resolving the food crisis for the people, development of light industry, transition to a powerful knowledge-based economy, land management, and improvement of cultural and education projects. The Cabinet will be directing the new economic plan. The details of the plan are as follows:

First, in order to resolve the food issue, agricultural production should be improved through investment and technological assistance from the state level. Grain yields should be increased to reach the grain production goals to normalize food distribution for the people.

Second, light industry must be reinforced to resolve the shortages of daily necessities. Specific measures should be established to secure raw materials and to improve the quality to elevate the demand of North Korean products.

Third, housing, food, fuel and other issues related to livelihood must be given priority to improve the quality of life for the people.

Fourth, basic industrial sectors must be developed to build a strong foundation for economic development which can lead to advance production in all areas of the people’s economy.

Fifth, power, coal, metal, and railway system should lead the way to revitalize the people’s economy and stabilize the lives of the people. In particular, power production must be drastically increased and distributed in order to effectively improve the quality of life and monitoring and control must be reinforced.

Sixth, the nation must be established as a strong knowledge-based nation. It was acknowledged that the world is quickly transitioning to the informatization of the economy and North Korea must develop the national economy and build an economic structure that meets international demand. Science and technology should be the forerunner to incorporate science and technology with production and resolve all problems in the economic development process from the science and technology aspect.

UPDATE 1 (2012-4-18): Martyn Williams somehow managed to put up a full English translation of the talk.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-4-15): KCNA reports on the speech:

Kim Jong Un Speaks at Military Parade

Pyongyang, April 15 (KCNA) — The dear respected Kim Jong Un made a congratulatory speech at the military parade celebrating the centenary of the birth of Generalissimo Kim Il Sung.

In his speech Kim Jong Un said that the military parade is a great festival of victors which was provided according to the noble intention of leader Kim Jong Il and on his direct initiative to glorify forever the feats Kim Il Sung performed in the army building and demonstrate the might of the socialist power before the world.

Kim Il Sung, who directed primary efforts to strengthening the revolutionary armed forces in the whole period of his protracted revolutionary activities, worked such military miracle in the 20th century as defeating the most ferocious two imperialisms in one generation, trained the Korean People’s Army into a match-for-a hundred revolutionary army, put all the people under arms and turned the whole country into a fortress, providing a strong military guarantee for the sovereignty of the country and the eternal prosperity of the nation, he noted.

Kim Jong Il, who regarded it as his lifelong mission to carry forward and accomplish the Songun revolutionary cause of Juche pioneered by Kim Il Sung, ushered in the greatest heyday of the development of the Korean revolutionary armed forces with his extraordinary wisdom, outstanding commanding art and matchless grit, he said, and went on:

The Korean revolutionary armed forces have fully demonstrated the might of the powerful revolutionary army distinct in its revolutionary nature and strong in its militant spirit and might under the care of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

The military and technical superiority is no longer a monopoly of the imperialists and gone are the days when the enemies could threaten and blackmail against the DPRK with A bombs.

The far-reaching strategy and final victory of the Korean revolution lie in advancing straight along the road of independence, the road of Songun and the path of socialism indicated by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

It is the firm resolution of the Workers’ Party of Korea to enable our people, the best people in the world who have remained loyal to the party, overcoming all difficulties, to live, without tightening their belts any longer, and fully enjoy wealth and prosperity under socialism.

The WPK and the DPRK government will join hands with anyone who truly wants the reunification of the country and the peace and prosperity of the nation and make responsible and patient efforts to accomplish the historic cause of national reunification.

The sun’s flag of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il will fly forever before the ranks of the Korean revolution demonstrating victory and glory only and will always encourage us to win fresh victories, he concluded.

More below…



Mirim’s second Kim Il-sung Square

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

UPDATE 1: By coincidence NK Leadership Watch and I posted on a similar topic today.  See his post and analysis here.

ORIGINAL POST: Today the Daily NK reported that preparations were underway for another KPA military parade:

A high level government official revealed today, “North Korea has been mobilizing military personnel and equipment to practice for the military parade at Mirim Airfields near Pyongyang. This practice has been taking place since even before the death of Kim Jong Il.”

The official explained the reason for the ongoing parade practice as part of preparations to commemorate Kim Il Sung’s birthday (April 15) and the Mlitary Foundation Day (April 25).

The military parade practice has so far involved the Worker and Peasant Red Guard, which is made up of currently-serving soldiers and reservists, mobilized with the latest-model tanks, armored cars, as well as short and medium range KN-02 and Musudan missiles.

The official added, “North Korea conducts parades on anniversaries such as the Military Foundation Day and other national holidays. Looking at the speed and scale of preparations currently underway, it seems more likely that the parade will take place in April rather than on February 16, Kim Jong Il’s birthday.”

The logistics of these parades are enormous.  I learned a lot about them back in November at a meeting with Osamu Eya in Japan. Among the many things we discussed, I asked him where the North Korean military practices their parades through Kim Il-sung Square. He answered with a single word: “Mirim”.

Now I am kind of embarrassed to admit that I never saw the resemblance (because I thought of the Mirim area as a runway strip and because the two places are not geographically laid out in the same directions). Once you rotate the satellite images and set them next to each other, however, there is no denying that the KPA has a Kim Il-sung Square-sized practice area from which to rehearse its grand military parades.


Pictured above (Google Earth): (L) Kim Il-Sung Square, (R) Mirim parade practice area.

Looking at the most current Google Earth satellite imagery (2010-10-6) we can see vehicles already practicing for their next parade:

In this Google Earth image (2006-11-11) we can see people practicing in the area:

Going back to the oldest available satellite image on Google Earth (2000-6-12) the use of the facility as a practice area is a little more clear.  We can also see some of what remains of the original landing strip in this photo:

But Mirim is not just a practice filed.  It also contains facilities to house and feed the thousands of people who come to practice. Just to the left of the field is the April 25 Hotel:


According to KCNA (1998-9-30):

The April 25 Hotel has been built on the outskirts of Pyongyang as a monumental edifice in the era of the Workers’ Party. The hotel with a total floor space of more than 134,000 square metres and accommodation for 20,000 guests has bedrooms, cultural and welfare facilities and cook equipment on a highest level. It will serve servicemen and civilians who participate in national military and civic events. Soldier-builders successfully finished this gigantic project–erection of buildings, assembling of equipment and arrangement of the area–in a little more than one year. A ceremony for the completion of the hotel took place on Tuesday. Present at the ceremony were Jo Myong Rok, Kim Il Chol, Kye Ung Thae and others. A congratulatory message of the Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee was conveyed to the soldier-builders and helpers who had performed feats in the hotel construction. The message noted that the April 25 Hotel, a monumental edifice of the era, has been built in a short span of time under the present conditions that all the people have to overcome manifold trials and hardships in their advance. it could be done only by the revolutionary army of Korea who knows no impossibility, and it is a proud fruition produced by the might of the army and people rallied around the party as one in mind, it stressed. Highly praising the soldier-builders and helpers for demonstrating again the potentials and stamina of socialist Korea by completing the hotel, the message expressed the belief that they would make greater success in carrying out their revolutionary duties. Jo Myong Rok made a report at the ceremony. The reporter said that the heroic and proud feats performed by servicemen in the noble work to carry out the WPK’s grand plan for construction will be always remembered by the fatherland and handed down to posterity.


KCNA reported on 1998-10-8 that Kim Jong-il visited the hotel:

Pictured above: Kim Jong-il giving “on the spot guidance” at the 4.25 Hotel

[Kim Jong-il] then went to the April 25 Hotel which was newly built on Mirim plain. Looking round the interior and exterior of the hotel including a bedroom, a washroom, a dining hall and a kitchen, he learned how the hotel had been built. He highly praised soldiers and helpers for having built the hotel in a short span of time and contributed to demonstrating the potential and stamina of socialist Korea once again. He said the construction of the hotel in a short span of time is a miracle that can be worked only by the heroic Korean People’s Army (KPA) which is intensely loyal to the party. He added that the country will always remember the soldiers’ heroic feats and proud achievements in socialist construction. He called for equipping the hotel, an asset of eternal value for the army and people, with better facilities, planting many trees around the hotel, creating a pleasure park and providing those who stay in the hotel with good conditions for cultured life. As many servicemen and civilians will use the hotel, they should be given best services, he said, and gave the hotel important tasks for its management and operation. The Chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission was accompanied by director of the General Political Department of the KPA Jo Myong Rok, chief of the general staff of the KPA Kim Yong Chun, Minister of the People’s Armed Forces Kim Il Chol and general officers of the KPA.

This hotel was built at the time the DPRK was experiencing the “Arduous March” (Forced March)–a famine which killed up to a million people. Despite the acute shortage of food and a breakdown of the DPRK’s revolutionary social contract, KCNA listed this hotel as one of the great accomplishments of the North Koreans during this time (1998-12-31):

This year proud successes have been reported from the DPRK in face of difficulties brought on by the combined effects of the never-ceasing campaign of the imperialists to stifle the DPRK and years of natural disasters. The most remarkable success gained in the forced march this year is artitifical satellite “Kwangmyongsong 1” which was launched into orbit on august 31. The scientists and technicians of Korea launched into orbit the first artificial satellite, a product of their own wisdom and technology, fully demonstrating the national power of Korea with a powerful scientific and technical force and the solid foundations of the independent national economy. Bulky April 25 Hotel and September 9 Street sprang up in Pyongyang to commemorate 50 years of the DPRK (September 9). The hotel with modern equipment and accommodation for 20,000 is on the east outskirts of the capital city. The street linking Pyongyang Airport to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, the sacred temple of Juche, gave a major face-lifting to the northwest area of the capital city with bridges of special characteristics, flats for thousands of households, ornamental forests, scores of metres wide, on either side of the highway in good harmony with landscape. Thousands of minor power stations were built across the country this year. The locally-built minor power stations in Jagang Province meet the needs for the lighting of the flats for more than 100,000 households and the production of local-industry factories. Flats for 10,000 households in Chongjin, an industrial city, benefit from electric heating. A growing number of cities, counties and units are offsetting the demands for electricity with electric energy turned out at minor power stations. The Huichon General Machine Tool Plant produced hundreds of machine tools in a matter of a few months. In the railway transport diesel engine locomotives were converted into electric locomotives called “forced march.” 60 kilometre-odd-long railroad between Haeju and Ongjin, between singangryong and Pupho in the central area of the country was switched over to a broad-gauge one. The Pyongyang Integrated Circuits Factory, salt refineries and other industrial establishments were commissioned or completed throughout the country. As a result, a more solid economic foundation of the nation was laid.


New report claims 2009 DPRK economy is 86.5% of 1995

Monday, January 9th, 2012

NOTE: I have not seen this report yet, so I cannot directly comment.  If you see a copy, please send it to me.

Here is the story in the Daily NK:

If 1995 represented a baseline level of 100 for the North Korean economy, then by 2009 it had declined to 86.5 following sharp reductions in inter-Korean aid over the preceding year, according to newly released economic analysis.

The analysis, ‘Research into the State of Inter-Korean Change Seen through Statistics,’ was produced by the Sejong Institute pursuant to a request from Statistics Korea, the South Korean state statistics body.

The report incorporated ten different statistical variables, including North Korea’s estimated food and electricity production, trade and finance volumes and levels of international aid.

During the March of Tribulation, the mid-1990s famine that killed hundreds of thousands of North Koreans, the economy declined to a nadir of 70.3 (in 1998), according to the report’s findings; conversely, at the very peak of ‘Sunshine Policy’ aid deliveries in 2007, it reached a level of 104.7.

Elsewhere, North Korea’s food production had risen to 119 by 2009, while coal and electricity production had reached 107.6 and 102.2 respectively, it also reports. Conversely, steel production declined to 81.8, marine production to 63, and oil imports to 47.1.

Analyzing the situation, it goes on, “Steel and electricity production, the core of the North Korean command economy, did not change much so they could not have much of an effect. The decline of industrial facilities is serious, and due to this worn out equipment mineral production is slumping and there is never enough electrical power for smelting.”

The report notes pessimistically that current difficulties are set to continue, adding that even if North Korea embarked on root and branch reform tomorrow, in many cases it would already be too late for recovery without massive and sustained investment.

“In a society like North Korea where politics dominates everything else and the biggest impediments to state development, dictatorship and the 3rd generation succession, normal economic development is impossible,” it concludes.

The Donga Ilbo also reported on the study:

North Korea`s economic prowess has deteriorated due to stalled inter-Korean relations since peaking in 2007 due to expanded aid from South Korea and trade with China, a report released Monday in Seoul said.

The North`s economic ability peaked to 104.7 in 2007, up from the benchmark score of 100 in 1995, but plunged afterward to as low as 86.5 in 2009, the Sejong Institute said in the report prepared at the request of Statistics Korea. The Stalinist country`s economic prowess was based on 10 indicators including steel and electricity production, trade volume, state budget and the value of the South’s assistance to the North.

The North Korean economy began to deteriorate from the mid-1990s, when millions of people starved to death due to famine, and the economic ability figure fell to as low as 70.3 in 1998. It rose again, however, and reached 104.7 in 2007.

South Korean assistance to the North surged to raise the indicator to a high of 236.9 in 2007, a huge leap from the baseline score of 100 in 1995. The communist country`s trade volume also jumped 43.4 percent due to the expansion of trade with China.

The North`s economy began to shrink from 2008, when the South halted aid. Notably, the indicator fell to as low as 86.5 in 2009 to tie the record-low set in 2000. Due to deterioration of inter-Korean relations, the volume of South Korean government assistance to the North tumbled over the period to 36.2 in 2009, down 84.7 percent from that in 2007.

A decline in external trade except with China due to tougher international sanctions against Pyongyang also hastened the deterioration of the North Korean economy. Due to the participation by Singapore, one of the North`s top five trading partners, in the sanctions, the combined volume of the North`s trade fell about 10.7 percent, resulting in the indicator falling from 186.3 in 2008 to 166.3 in 2009.

The think tank said,“Considering that production of steel and electricity, the cornerstone of the centrally planned North Korean economy, remained largely unchanged, the recent deterioration of the North Korean economy stems from reduction of South Korean aid and contraction of the North`s overall trade volume.”

Here is a link to the Statistics Korea page on North Korea.

Read the full stories here:
NK Economy Lagging Heavy in 2009
Daily NK
Cho Jong Ik

N.Korean economy plunges after hitting high in 2007: report
Donga Ilbo


North Korea’s new class system

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

Andrei Lankov writes in the Asia Times:

It is often overlooked how much North Korea has changed over the past 20 years. Its Stalinist and militaristic facade is carefully maintained by the state, but in the new circumstances it is increasingly misleading. Behind this official veneer of militant posters and goose-stepping soldiers, the society itself has changed much.

In a nutshell, the past two decades were the time when the state was steadily retreating from the private life, and also was losing its ability (perhaps also its will) to control the daily activities of its subjects as well as how they made a living. One of many significant changes has been the steady decline in the significance attached to family background (known as songbun in North Korean parlance) – once the single most important factor that determined the life of a North Korean.

Family background did matter in other communist countries as well, but to a much lesser extent. For example, in the Soviet Union immediately after the 1917 communist revolution, scions of aristocrats, descendants of priests, and merchants faced many kinds of discrimination. It was more difficult for them to enter a college or to be promoted, and they were more likely to be arrested for alleged political crimes. However, this discrimination had disappeared by the late 1940s, so in the days of my youth, in the 1970s and 1980s, it had become quite normal in the USSR to boast about real or alleged aristocratic family roots.

North Korea is very different. In 1957, the authorities launched a large-scale and ambitious investigation of the family backgrounds of virtually all North Korean citizens. As a result of this and subsequent investigations, by the mid-1960s the entire population was divided into a number of hereditary groups, somewhat akin to the estates of medieval Europe. Career chances and life prospects of every North Korean were determined, to a very large extent, by his membership in one of these strictly defined groups.
The major criteria of classification were quite straightforward: the songbun (origin) of the North Korean was largely defined by what his or her direct male ancestors did in the 1930s and 1940s.

The official songbun structure was quite elaborate and changed over time. However, at the first approximation, there have been three groups in North Korea, usually known as “core”, “wavering” and “hostile” classes. Every single North Korean had to belong to one of these groups.

The “hostile class” included people whose ancestors in or around 1945 were engaged in activities that were not to the regime’s liking. Among others, this group included descendants of clerks in the Japanese colonial administration, Christian activists, female shamans, entrepreneurs, and defectors to the South. Members of the hostile class faced the greatest number of restrictions: They could not live in Pyongyang or other major cities and they could not be admitted to good colleges or universities. People whose songbun was exceptionally bad would not even be drafted into the military.

Members of the “core class” included those whose direct male ancestors contributed toward the foundation and strengthening of the Kim family regime. They were descendants of anti-Japanese guerrillas, heroes of the Korean War, or party bureaucrats. For all practical purposes, over the past half-century, only these people could be promoted to key positions in the North Korean state and party bureaucracy. They constituted the hereditary elite.

In the days of Kim Il-sung’s rule, from the early 1960s to the early 1990s, songbun was of paramount significance. It determined where people lived and worked and even what they ate. Most marriages were also concluded between people of the same or similar songbun.

It was also important that the songbun was, in essence, unchallengeable. It was inherited from one’s father and was then bestowed on one’s children. The mother’s songbun did not matter. I know a couple where the husband’s songbun was bad (he was a “landowner’s grandson”), but the wife had the best songbun imaginable, being a descendant of a family that once was involved with the anti-Japanese guerrillas of Kim Il-sung. Frankly, such a marriage was rare and unequal – in most cases women of such standing would be as reluctant to marry a man of low origin as, say, a European noble lady from the 17th century. However, in this particular case the marriage did take place, much against the resistance of the girl’s parents.

In due time, though, the spouses discovered that the wife’s songbun did not really matter. Their daughter, a promising athlete, could not be sent for further training, since her songbun was bad: the great-granddaughter of a minor landlord could not compete on the national level and, for that matter, could be accepted only to a junior college.

In Kim Il-sung’s era – that is, before 1994 – the state was in near-complete control of an individual’s life. The only way to achieve high status and affluence was to climb the official bureaucratic ladder. As a North Korean friend put it in the late 1980s: “I hate officials, but I want to become an official, because in our country, only officials can live well.” Indeed, in Kim Il-sung’s North Korea all material goods were distributed by the state and almost all income was derived from work in state industry or the state bureaucracy.

But things started to change dramatically in the early 1990s. The state sector, suddenly deprived of Soviet subsidies, collapsed. North Koreans suddenly discovered that food rations were no longer forthcoming and their official monthly salary would only buy 1 or 2 kilograms of rice. Predictably, mass starvation followed, killing at least a half-million people.

To survive, the North Korean people literally rediscovered capitalism. Estimates vary, but the consensus is that over the past 10-15 years, the average North Korean family has come to draw most of its income from what can be described as black-market activities. Actually the so-called black market is not particularly black, since the government – in spite of occasional crackdowns – has tacitly tolerated its existence since the mid-1990s. Nowadays North Koreans work on individual fields on steep mountain slopes, they establish private workshops to produce garments and assorted consumer goods, and they smuggle and trade.

The new and increasingly dominant unofficial economy is in essence capitalist. As such, it rewards those who are sufficiently industrious, greedy, intelligent, ruthless and disciplined – and in some cases, it rewards them handsomely. Social inequality is growing and many a successful merchant or workshop owner lives better than a middle-ranking bureaucrat. A successful entrepreneur might have all trappings of luxury – including, say, a Chinese motorbike or a refrigerator, which in North Korea can be seen as roughly equivalent to a Lexus and a yacht.

The success in the emerging new economy is usually unrelated to one’s songbun. In fact, sometimes it seems that people with bad songbun tend to be more successful nowadays – perhaps because back in the 1990s they had no expectations of the state and were the first to jump into the murky waters of the emerging North Korean market economy.

Of late, the previously attractive career avenues have lost much of their allure. For example, in the past, many North Koreans were willing to do their long and tedious military service, which lasted some seven to 10 years. This popularity was easy to explain: For a person with average songbun, this would be the only way to get into the bottom tiers of the bureaucracy. As a North Korean told it, recalling the time of her youth, the 1970s: “The only way to become somebody was to go into the military, join the Korean Workers Party while on the active service, and then come back to become an official.”

Recently, however, military service has lost much of its popularity. Few people would be willing spend 10 years in a squalid barracks so as eventually to become a minor official in the city administration. Such a job is still attractive, to be sure, but it seems preferable to become a smuggler or a merchant, whose income far exceeds that of a petty bureaucrat.

Still, on the very top, songbun is important, since the key administrative positions are held by those with good songbun, and a mid- or high-level official can make a nice income by milking the private economy. Hence people with good songbun still often think about capitalizing on the real or alleged contribution of their ancestors to the establishment of the North Korean regime. However, for a majority the emergence of markets opened a new, faster and more attractive (but also more risky) avenue of social mobility.

North Korean society has become defined by one’s relationship to money, not by one’s relationship to the bureaucracy or one’s inherited caste status. Money talks, and for better or worse, in North Korea, money talks ever louder. As a female refugee in her early 40s put it recently: “Under Kim Il-sung, songbun was very important, it decided everything. Under Kim Jong-il, things are different – your family background still matters, but money nowadays is more important than social background.”

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s new class system
Asia Times
Andrei Lankov


Some interesting recent publications and articles

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

1. “Relying on One’s Strength: The Growth of the Private Agriculture in Borderland Areas of North Korea”
Andrei Lankov,Seok Hyang Kim ,Inok Kwa
PDF of the article here 

The two decades which followed the collapse of the communist bloc were a period of dramatic social and economic transformation in North Korea. The 1990-2010 period was a time when market economy re-emerged in North Korea where once could be seen as the most perfect example of the Stalinist economic model. The present article deals with one of the major areas of socioeconomic change which, so far, has not been the focus of previous studies. The topic is about the growth of private agricultural activities in North Korea after 1990. This growth constitutes a significant phenomenon which has important social consequences and also is important from a purely economic point of view: it seems that the spontaneous growth of private plots played a major role in the recent improvement of the food situation inside North Korea.


3. Korea Sharing Movement anti-malarial program (Via Cancor)
Read a PDF of on the project here


4. What is it like to teach at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST)?
Find out from one instructor here. More on PUST here.



Lankov on measures of economic freedom in the DPRK

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Pictured above: An annual index measure of economic freedom in the DPRK from 1995 to 2011, published by the Heritage Foundation’s and Wall Street Journal’s Index of Economic Freedom.

Andrei Lankov writes in the Asia Times:

[The] Heritage foundation and the Wall Street Journal recently published a new edition of their annual index of economic freedom, according to which North Korea has the world’s least-free economy. One can hardly argue about this – North Korea has for decades worked hard to take Stalinism to its logical extremes, and slightly beyond that.

However, one gets perplexed when looking at the grades of unfreedom that are given by the Heritage Foundation to the North through the 1995-2011 period. According to the index, the level of economic unfreedom in North Korea was essentially the same throughout the entire 1996-2005 period. Then, in 2005 it deteriorated considerably and has continued a slow downward slide until now.

This depiction is bound to raise the eyebrows of anyone who is familiar with actual economic trends in North Korea. The graph is correct when it says that the economy became more restrictive in 2005, when the government tried to re-introduce the rationing and reconfirmed the ban on the private sale of grain (such a ban had existed since 1957, but ceased to be enforced around 1990).

However, the 2005 measures were, essentially, a backlash, an attempt to reverse the half-baked reforms of 2002 – and those reforms can be described only as liberalizing.

On balance, the 2002 reforms should not be overestimated. Nonetheless, the 2002 reforms legalized a significant part of the black economy, and also granted managers of state-owned industrial enterprises a measure of managerial freedom they had not had for many decades.

If this was not an increase in economic freedom, what was it? But the Heritage Foundation graph does not give any hint of this change: the line that purports to depict the level of economic freedom remains on the same low level in 2002.

This is more interesting because 1997-2002 was when actual economic freedom increased dramatically. The old hyper-Stalinist laws remained technically effective, but nobody bothered to enforce these restrictions. It is estimated that in the early 2000s, the average North Korean family drew some 80% of its income from various market activities.

This was technically illegal, but the authorities were ready to turn a blind eye to the re-emergence of some form of a market economy, and in 2002 they even grudgingly and partially legalized the already flourishing market economy.

However, these improvements – both de-facto and, in 2002-2005 de-jure – find no expression in the flat line of the Heritage graph which, however, does not fail to notice that after 2005 the situation again began to deteriorate due to a government backlash against the private economy. The backlash was not particularly successful, but it lasted until 2009, and this is correctly reflected by the downward line at the graph.

However, then the graph begins seriously misleading again – and again, seemingly due the same implicit assumption that in North Korea things can go only from bad to worse. The graph depicts 2009 as a year when the level of freedom went even lower – and this is a correct assumption, since in 2009 the authorities undertook currency reform.

The reform’s main, if not sole, purpose was to annihilate the private economy that had survived the 2005-2009 backlashes surprisingly well. There is little doubt that North Korean decision-makers really want, above all, to revive the hyper-Stalinist economy that alone guarantees the regime’s long-term political stability (or so they – and the present author – believe).

However, the 2009 bold attempt to go back to the Stalinist ways ended in complete and pathetic failure – and the government, fearful of the chaos its inept reform created, backpedaled immediately.

The failure of the 2009 currency reform was followed by another wave of economic liberalization. In May 2010, the government lifted all restrictions and bans on private retail trade that were introduced in the 2005-09 backlash. In fact, the North Korean economy nowadays is roughly as free (or rather unfree) as it used to be immediately after the 2002 reforms. But there is no hint of this roller coaster changes in the slowly descending line of the Heritage Foundation Index.

The same is applicable to the economic situation. Every year, we get reports about a looming famine in North Korea – and this year is no exception. A quick look through headlines of major newspapers can clarify that such reports surface with predictable regularity every year.

In March 2008, the International Herald Tribune ran a headline “Food shortage looms in North Korea”. In March 2009, the Washington Post headline said “At the Heart of North Korea’s Troubles, an Intractable Hunger Crisis”. One year later, in March 2010, the Times of London warned: “Catastrophe in North Korea; China must pressure Pyongyang to allow food aid to millions threatened by famine.” In March 2011, The New York Times wrote: “North Korea: 6 Million Are Hungry.” The predictions of gloom come every year, but famine does not.

Actually, from around 2002-2003, we have seen a steady but clear improvement in North Korea’s economic situation. North Koreans are still malnourished, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, they are not starving any more – at least not in significant numbers.

However, opponents of the regime cannot admit that people are not starving or report about (however marginal) improvement of the food situation, since, as I have said, from their viewpoint nothing can possibly improve in North Korea. At the same time, supporters of the regime will not admit that the North Korean people are still malnourished, and the regime itself is active in presenting exaggerated evidence of a looming famine (or perhaps, even fabricating such evidence when necessary) – as this will help it get more free food from the outside, and this is what Pyongyang needs.

One can see the same trends everywhere. For example, human-rights non-governmental organizations keep telling us about a further deterioration in the human-rights situation in the North. However, the evidence tells a different story. Human rights are still by far the world’s worst, but they are better than 20 or 30 years ago.

Just one example of this under-reported improvement will probably suffice. Until the mid-1990s, the entire family of a political criminal – that is, all people who were registered at the same address as he or she, were by default shipped to a concentration camp. Some 10 or 15 years ago, this approach ceased to be universal, so families of many political criminals – including some prominent activists based in Seoul – remained free.

There is little doubt that families are harassed, and even distant relatives of dissenters are denied good jobs and/or the right to reside in Pyongyang and major cities. Nonetheless, there is a great difference between inability to live in a major city and incarceration in what might indeed be the world’s worst prison camp system.

However, this change is seldom reported. Human-rights advocacy groups obviously cannot bring themselves admit that something can get better under the Kim family regime. Probably, they think that such admission would make the situation look less urgent and thus would help the Kim family regime in some indirect way. These worries might be even well-founded – but the result is the tendency to ignore a particular type of “politically incorrect” news.

Paradoxically, regime sympathizers – whose presence is especially noticeable among the South Korean left – are equally reluctant to attract any attention to these minor improvements. It is understandable, since we are talking about changes from the awful to the very bad, and Pyongyang champions cannot bring themselves to admit how brutal and inefficient the regime actually is.

For example, if pro-Pyongyang media outlets report that the “family responsibility” principle does not apply in many cases, they would have to admit that in the supposed “paradise” of national purity and/or anti-globalist determination in North Korea, not only dissenters, but their families as well were shipped to concentration camps until quite recently. No member of South Korea’s radical nationalist left could bring him or herself to admit this fact.

One cannot imagine a pro-North Korean leftist blogger in Seoul triumphantly writing something like this: “In the past, if somebody watched a South Korean melodrama, he would be arrested, beaten unconscious and then sent to prison for life together with his entire family. Nowadays, things are so better: only his teeth – not ribs! – are likely to be broken during an investigation, and then he or she will spend in prison merely a couple years, and his family are now allowed to keep their freedom. What an improvement!”

The sad irony is that this change is actually an improvement, but neither side of the political debate is going to report it. This is confirmation to the old truism: political passions make people oblivious to the obvious. However, propaganda is a poor substitute for honest and objective analysis – even when such propaganda is produced by people who believe it themselves.

Read the full story here:
It’s not all doom and gloom in Pyongyang
Andrei Lankov
Asia Times